Are pronouns up for debate or not?

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There’s been a lot of ink spilled recently about the use of pronouns and preferred names in academia. At U of T, one professor in particular is kicking up a fuss about having been asked to use students’ preferred names and pronouns. A CBC editorial on the subject by Neil Macdonald recently provided an entertaining example of a baby boomer throwing a sputtering temper tantrum over the fact that he’s being asked to think about other people.

I could begin demanding that my colleagues refer to me as “blort” or “zonge” with the expectation that they would respectfully begin doing so.

(Imagine wanting to be treated with respect! Hilarious! Also, for the record, the singular “they” is not some newfangled invention of “those damn SJW’s.” There’s at least one example of it in Shakespeare. See A Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3.)

It’s almost not worth saying that this is a generational thing, and when the boomers have passed on, their faux indignation over being asked to be a decent human being will die with them. In a couple decades, this debate will seem as weird to us as a prof who insists that freedom of expression means that he has the right to use the n-word to refer to students who are people of colour.

But let’s take the question of whether we should debate another person’s pronouns at face value, just for fun. Academia is supposed to be an anything-goes bare-knuckle cage-match of ideas, right? Are there legitimate reasons why we might not want to have a debate over pronouns?

I’ve come up with two.

Intellectual honesty

Let’s start with the example of smoking and lung cancer. I’ll get back to the debate at hand, I promise.

Smoking causes lung cancer. This is a fact.

Yes it’s a probabilistic thing; yes, it’s true that not all smokers get lung cancer; yes, it’s true that not all people with lung cancer smoked. But the causal link between smoking and lung cancer is so well established that it is now beyond doubt.

If, in 1950, there was a formal debate at McGill called “Does smoking cause lung cancer?”, that might have been an appropriate debate to have. There was genuine uncertainty over the issue at the time.

However, if I saw a poster on campus today in 2016 for a debate with the same title, I would take it to be a major failing in terms of either scientific judgement or intellectual honesty on the part of the organisers. I would question either their motives or their competency. For a person who wants an answer to the question of whether smoking causes lung cancer, the appropriate response is to point them toward the library, where there are reams of good data on the subject. A debate would not be appropriate.

The reason for this is that a formal public debate presupposes a certain equipoise between the sides being debated. Just framing certain issues as needing to be discussed by academics in the manner of a debate can be dishonest, like in the smoking/lung cancer debate example.

And so sometimes when a person says that something is “not a matter of debate,” it’s not because that the person is some insecure authority whose policies cannot bear scrutiny and they wish to stifle dissent by barring discussion. Sometimes when a person says that something is “not a matter of debate,” they just mean that it would be irresponsible and dishonest to use the machinery of academic “debate” to introduce unwarranted uncertainty where the issue has already legitimately been settled.

As academics, of course we need to be ready to defend any position we take. If there is anywhere that debates should happen over difficult, offensive or extremely technical subjects, it’s within a university. And yet, not all debates are intellectually honest ones to have. Sometimes when a person says, “Let me play devil’s advocate,” the correct response is, “The devil has enough advocates.”

Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre

Not all speech is benign. The famous example is that if you falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, you could kill people.

The same goes for other forms of speech, including academic or political “debates.” After Harper dredged up the niqab debate in the 2015 election, there were violent physical attacks on Muslims in Montreal. The Brexit and Trump campaigns also both arguably brought about spikes in hate crimes in the UK and the US. If you have debates like, “Should we ban Muslims from our country?” those can—and we have seen recently that they do—incite violence against Muslims.

Other sorts of speech can cause harm even more directly. Let’s imagine the example of a trans student in a small class who doesn’t want to be outed as trans to her peers. Imagine that the student goes to the teacher on the first day of class and says, “I know the class list has my name as ‘John,’ but I go by ‘Jane,’ and I’d like you to use ‘she/her’ when referring to me.”

Let’s further imagine that the professor is of the type who refuses to respect a student’s preferred name and pronouns on principle. Just by exercising their “right to freedom of expression,” this professor could out the student to their peers against the student’s will, which could directly put them at risk of harm. This student might be threatened or harmed, but even if the student is lucky and nothing bad happens, she might just feel threatened by this behaviour, which is a harm in itself.

Part of the problem is that discussions that can cause harm or risk of harm to others are often initiated by people who don’t bear any of that risk themselves. So for example, when Harper decided to “have a debate” on the niqab for his own narrow political ends, he did so knowing that he would never be the target of the anti-Muslim violence that followed. Similarly, a cis prof who refuses to use preferred names and pronouns will never be on the receiving end of violence against trans people, and they aren’t even in a good place to evaluate the level of risk that they may be imposing on other people against their will.

The prof at U of T wants to paint himself as the brave intellectual, bucking the orthodoxy and asking questions that no one else has the courage to ask, while his opponents won’t even meet him for an honest discussion. All I see is a guy who doesn’t have any skin in the game, who can afford to debate the level of respect owed to other humans because it will never affect him personally.

What does it mean when someone says their pronouns aren’t up for debate, then?

When a person says their pronouns “aren’t up for debate,” they are not saying that there is no defense for the position they’re taking. There is a field of study that has considered, among other things, the question of pronouns and preferred names. In a lot of academic institutions, it’s called “Gender Studies.” You’ve probably made fun of it. But the fact that you’re ignorant of an entire academic discipline and decades worth of research doesn’t mean that there is a genuine question to be considered. It might just mean that you need to go to the library.

And when a person says their pronouns “aren’t up for debate,” they might mean that what seems like an abstract, academic discussion to you could mean harm or the risk of harm to them. They’re not saying, “My position cannot stand up to criticism.” They’re saying, “I don’t want to be a casualty of this discussion.”

tl;dr

Everything should be open for debate—in principle—but not all debates come from a place of intellectual honesty, and not all debates are benign.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4805,
    title = {Are pronouns up for debate or not?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-20,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/20/are-pronouns-up-for-debate-or-not/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Are pronouns up for debate or not?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 20 Nov 2016. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/20/are-pronouns-up-for-debate-or-not/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 20). Are pronouns up for debate or not? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/20/are-pronouns-up-for-debate-or-not/


What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?

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Background

A major theme of my master’s thesis1 was the idea that if we want to conceive of human research protocols through the framework of a marketplace, then human research protocols are something that economists would call “credence goods.”

Credence goods are products, like drug trials, whose quality is difficult for its consumers to judge.2 Markets for credence goods are marked by learning constraints and information asymmetry.3 That is to say, there are practical constraints that prevent most consumers from learning what they need to in order to make a good judgement about whether they want a product. So, while it might not be impossible for a person who wants to participate in a trial of a drug to get a medical degree to better evaluate it, it’s not reasonable to expect the market for drug trials to function properly if that’s the level at which one has to be educated in order to participate. Financial products are other examples of credence goods, and it is (generally) non-controversial that these need to be regulated in order for their markets to function.4

A popular metaphor and justification for freedom of expression is the “marketplace of ideas”—the notion that the truth will emerge from market-like competition in free, transparent, public discourse.5 Part of what makes this marketplace metaphor compelling is the idea that, over time, the best ideas will beat out their competition. The best response to bad speech is good speech. Consumers will, over time, identify and reward the best ideas, and the market itself will regulate what is expressed without the need for heavy-handed interference from the state.

Have news articles become credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?

This idea of a marketplace of ideas seems great, except that it is getting harder and harder to sift through the bad products in the news marketplace these days, and it’s taking more and more time and expertise to find the good ones. Sure, anyone with enough time and training and education can figure out when a particular news story is fabricated, but who has the time to do that?

Post-truth is the word of the year, according to Oxford Dictionaries. By some measurements, fake news stories have greater impact than legit ones:

Facebook engagements

Facebook engagements

Just today, we went from this tweet:

Original tweet

Original tweet

To this one:

It's a faaaake!

It’s a faaaake!

And before the day was even done, we came nearly full 360 back to this:

It's real!

It’s real!

For myself, I’m at the point where I don’t have the ability to figure out what’s going on anymore. I don’t even have the rubric of “common sense” to fall back on at this point. If you had shown me 4 years ago a news article that says Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States, I would have assumed that it came from a fake news site. There’s part of me that’s honestly still hoping this is all a prank.

Unintended consequences

As we all know, well-intended interventions into markets can have unintended consequences.6 So even though I’m frustrated by not knowing what is going on anymore, and I’m generally in favour of market regulation, I’m worried about what is going to happen next.

I don’t know what we should do, but I have a feeling that whatever backlash is coming against the “fake news,” it’s going to have exactly the opposite of its intended effect.

My fear is that any attempt to correct the trend of fake news is going to amount to censorship of the things that don’t get covered the way that they need to be through normal channels. (E.g. Youtube videos of police officers murdering racial minorities.)

tl;dr

The marketplace of ideas is having a market failure. How do we fix it without making things worse?

References

1. Carlisle B. A Critique of Phase IV Seeding Studies on the Basis of a Non-paternalistic Justification for Subject Protections in Human Research. McGill University Libraries; 2011.

2. London AJ, Kimmelman J, Emborg ME. Beyond access vs. protection in trials of innovative therapies. Science. 2010 May 14;328(5980):829-30.

3. Carpenter D. Confidence Games: How Does Regulation Constitute Markets? l. Government and markets: Toward a new theory of regulation. 2010:164.

4. Wikipedia contributors. “Credence good.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 Aug. 2016. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

5. Wikipedia contributors. “Marketplace of ideas.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.

6. Wikipedia contributors. “Unintended consequences.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4774,
    title = {What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-18,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/18/what-do-we-do-about-credence-goods-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 18 Nov 2016. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/18/what-do-we-do-about-credence-goods-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 18). What do we do about credence goods in the marketplace of ideas? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/18/what-do-we-do-about-credence-goods-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas/


A gift of the fae folk, I assume?

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What is this thing?

What is this thing?

I tried to go to the Snowden talk at McGill a couple weeks ago. The lineup was too crazy huge for us to get in, so we went to Thomson House, the McGill grad students’ pub, and hooked a laptop into a TV there to watch.

Seriously, what?

Seriously, what?

On the way back, in a pile of stones upturned by the construction between the Leacock and Brown buildings on the McGill campus, I found a little medallion marked with strange symbols. It has a pentagram on one side and Death on the other.

I don’t know what to make of it. I assume it was left for me by the fairy folk, and that it’s a good omen?

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4763,
    title = {A gift of the fae folk, I assume?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-14,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A gift of the fae folk, I assume?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Nov 2016. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 14). A gift of the fae folk, I assume? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/


An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP

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Dear Mr Trudeau,

I am writing to you mostly out of fear from being kept in the dark with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). When this trade agreement was being actively negotiated, it was shrouded in secrecy, because “that’s how trade partnerships are bargained.” That’s fair, I suppose. I have never negotiated an international treaty, so I wouldn’t know.

Then, after certain chapters with terrifying and unconfirmed details were revealed through WikiLeaks, I asked the Liberal candidate in my riding about your policies regarding the Intellectual Property (IP) changes that will occur if the TPP is ratified. She told me that there was no way to answer, since there was no “official” document. I guess maybe that’s fair too. I can’t expect an official party policy on every rumour out there.

Then yesterday, The Globe and Mail reported that you agreed to promote the TPP to Canadians. We still don’t know what’s in it, but the most powerful person in the country—someone about to move into an office that the last ten years has proved has no accountability—has decided to make it happen. I’m not crying foul play or anything at this point, but I hope you can understand my anxiousness.

When you gave your victory speech on October 19, you proclaimed for all to hear that the reason the Liberal party won was because you listened. I am writing this letter in the hope that you will prove my cynicism wrong and continue to try to listen.

For better or for worse, Canadian parliament is an adversarial process. Our laws and policies are shaped by a system in which the excesses of the government of the day are meant to be held to account by the government’s opposition party. My worry is that with regards to the TPP, neither the government nor the opposition party seem to be interested in criticising this agreement as closely as it deserves.

My fear is that the first time that Canadians will get to see the official wording of the TPP document will be when the entire multi-chapter trade deal is presented to parliament as a take-it-or-leave-it package that’s to be voted on as a single bill that both the government and the opposition support. The more pessimistic part of me wonders if you will even slide it wholesale into an omnibus bill along with other unrelated legislation, like the last update to Canadian copyright laws was.

From what I’ve seen of the TPP in leaked documents, this trade deal runs counter to the public good in a number of ways, and secures only the good of a few who are already very wealthy. I will outline only three points that are very concerning for me, although there are certainly more reasons to be sceptical of the TPP. I admit that these are based on only the information that I have read from leaked documents and nth-hand reports. Such is the state of Canadian democracy, apparently: that citizens need to rely on rumour and WikiLeaks to know what laws their government plans to pass!

  1. The TPP would extend copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the author. This is terrible news for Project Gutenberg Canada, for example, which exists mostly because the American counterpart doesn’t have legal access to digitise and publish books from authors who died between 50 and 70 years ago. There is absolutely no argument to be made from the public good to justify this reduction of the Canadian Public Domain, aside from over-reaching corporate greed. It is not an exaggeration to say that this policy is one that will literally steal books from children to benefit large corporations.
  2. As far as we know so far, the TPP would also include harsh penalties for circumventing digital rights management (DRM) measures, and it would make internet censorship easier. These sorts of encroachments on personal liberty are most likely to be abused against those who are already least privileged, and in any case, personal liberties should not be given up lightly. Our current, balanced, made-in-Canada approach, for all its faults, is a significant protection; something to be proud of and something we should hold on to.
  3. Lastly, and the area of my personal interest as a medical ethicist, the IP provisions in the TPP will cost lives, both in Canada and around the world. It will make it more difficult for people in developing countries to get medications that they need, and it will drive up the cost of healthcare in Canada. The IP policies in the TPP could be fairly described as a wish-list for pharma lobbyists, and a more balanced approach is needed.

So with all that in mind, here is what I want to ask you, Mr Trudeau:

At what point will there be some meaningful democratic input into the proposed changes to Canadian laws that are in the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Will there be a free vote in the House of Commons on each of these individual changes? Or will you put it all together as a single bill and tell your MP’s to vote for it?

By “meaningful democratic input,” I don’t mean “industry consultations” or “lobbying.” I mean, getting the opinion of Canadians on the changes after you have explained that the TPP doesn’t just mean some-billions-in-trade, but it also means gutting the Canadian Public Domain, threatening the internet as we know it and having to make more tough decisions about who gets the medicine they need and who doesn’t.

I have the highest hopes that your answer will be honest, principled and in the best interest of this country’s people and not another country’s corporate interests.

My kindest regards to you and your family,

 

Benjamin Carlisle MA
fe’o mi’e la .myrf.

P.S. Please forward this message to whoever you will appoint as the relevant minister for this sort of question. I understand your cabinet has not yet been sworn in.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4620,
    title = {An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-11-2,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/11/02/an-open-letter-to-justin-trudeau-about-the-tpp/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Nov 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/11/02/an-open-letter-to-justin-trudeau-about-the-tpp/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Nov 02). An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/11/02/an-open-letter-to-justin-trudeau-about-the-tpp/


The answer to the question

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On October 9, inspired by the STREAM research group’s Forecasting Project, I posed a question to the Internet: “Do you know how the election is going to turn out?” I tweeted it at news anchors, MP’s, celebrities, academics, friends and family alike.

I’m very happy with the response! I got 87 predictions, and only 11 of them were what I would consider “spam.” I took those responses and analysed them to see if there were any variables that predicted better success in forecasting the result of the election.

The take-home message is: No. Nobody saw it coming. The polls had the general proportion of the vote pretty much correct, but since polls do not reflect the distribution of voters in individual ridings, the final seat count was very surprising. This may even suggest that the Liberals got the impetus for a majority result from the fact that everyone expected they would only narrowly eke out a victory over the incumbent Tories.

You can view the final report in web format or download it as a PDF.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4616,
    title = {The answer to the question},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-10-25,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "The answer to the question" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Oct 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Oct 25). The answer to the question [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/


Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?

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The STREAM (Studies of Translation, Ethics and Medicine) research group at McGill University, of which I’m a part, has been working on a project for the last year or so in which we elicit forecasts of clinical trial results from experts in their field. We want to see how well-calibrated clinical trialists are, and to see which members of a team are better or worse at predicting trial outcomes like patient accrual, safety events and efficacy measures.

Inspired by this, I borrowed some of the code we have been using to get forecasts from clinical trial investigators, and have applied it to the case of Canada’s 42nd federal election, and now I’m asking for you to do your best to predict how many seats each party will get, and who will win in your riding.

Let’s see how well we, as a group, can predict the outcome, and see if there are regional or demographic predictors for who is better or worse at predicting election results. The more people who make predictions, the better the data set I’ll have at the end, so please submit a forecast, and ask your friends!

The link for the forecasting tool is here: http://www.bgcarlisle.com/elxn42/

Just to make it interesting: I will personally buy a beer for the forecaster who gives me the best prediction out of them all.* :)

* If you are younger than 18 years of age, you get a fancy coffee, not a beer. No purchase necessary, only one forecast per person. Forecaster must provide email with the prediction in order for me to contact him/her. In the case of a tie, one lucky beer-receiver will be chosen randomly. Having the beer together with me is conditional on the convenience of both parties (e.g. if you live in Vancouver or something, I’ll just figure out a way to buy you a beer remotely, since I’m in Montreal). You may consult any materials, sources, polls or whatever. This is a test of your prediction ability, not memory, after all. Prediction must be submitted by midnight on October 18, 2015.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4597,
    title = {Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-10-8,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 08 Oct 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Oct 08). Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/


Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda

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A longstanding policy of the Conservative government has been reliance on information gathered from, and outright complicity with the torture of human beings. Since we’re deep into an election, and elections are one of the most clear ways that we’re supposed to be keeping our government accountable, let’s have a look back at the Conservative government’s “soft on torture” agenda.

As Man-in-Blue-Suit would say, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about metaphorical torture. I’m talking about purposely imposing literal pain, humiliation and deprivation on actual living human beings in order to elicit information, or to otherwise bring about some political gain. This is serious, and to call it “torture” is not an exaggeration in the slightest. And Stephen Harper has made sure that the Canada is a part of it. To sum up, as Harper said himself, we might not recognise Canada, now that he’s had his way with it.

To start with, this is not a one-off thing. This is a policy that the Cons have crafted over the course of years. Far from being an accident or an oversight, parts of this “soft on torture” policy were implemented in secret, which suggests that they understood the enormity of what they were doing, but they wanted to get away with it anyway.

Contrary to Harper’s patronising dismissals, this is not a conspiracy theory either. This is well-documented by internal government “watchdogs,” military memos, Parliamentary debate and even reports from foreign powers.

The following is not an exhaustive report, but just a convenience sample that I came up with. The earliest article is from the Globe and Mail in 2012, saying that Harper covered up the delivery of prisoners to be tortured more than 5 years prior, and the most recent is the response to the CIA report in December of last year.

Fortunately, Canada is a democracy, and one of the things that we citizens of Canada have is the right—and the responsibility—to hold the government of the day accountable for its actions at the polls.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4566,
    title = {Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-09-2,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/09/02/stephen-harpers-soft-on-torture-agenda/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Sep 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/09/02/stephen-harpers-soft-on-torture-agenda/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Sep 02). Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/09/02/stephen-harpers-soft-on-torture-agenda/


Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative

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Holy Bible

Holy Bible

I have spent quite a bit of time among conservative Christians in my day, and one of the things that I didn’t understand even when I counted myself among the super-conservatives was the single-minded political alignment of some of them with the Conservative party. I remember having conversations with people—smart people—who would tell me that they couldn’t vote for anyone but the Conservatives, and for religious / moral reasons, primarily that they were against abortion and against gay marriage. Below, I will give two arguments that run counter to this widely held view among Christians.

I will begin by arguing that it is irrational to vote Conservative if your reason for doing so is to vote against abortion or gay marriage, and my second argument will focus on the abuse of Christianity by Conservative politicians.

1. Moral issues that seem to be most important to conservatives are not even a part of the Conservatives’ agenda

For whatever reason, super-conservative Christians have chosen abortion and gay marriage as two big political issues that influence their voting. I do not want to start a debate about the moral permissibility of abortion or about the rights of LGBTQ+ people. I’m just going to take it as given that many conservative Christians see these as legitimate issues that are informed by their interpretation of Christian theology. That is to say, for whatever reason, whether anyone agrees with them, super-conservative Christians are against abortions and against LGBTQ+ rights.

So let’s imagine a voter who wants to vote along these these moral lines (without passing judgement on whether or not this is the sort of thing that we should be using the machinery of government to regulate, or even whether or not Christian theology supports these positions). For whom should this voter cast their ballot?

Not the Tories. Or at least, not for that reason.

Practically speaking, the Tories are indistinguishable from the NDP or the Liberals on these issues. Regardless of what they say in their platform about “traditional marriage” or opposing abortion, the only policy that matters is the one that gets voted on in parliament, and despite having a majority government since 2011, gay marriage and abortion are still 100% perfectly legal in Canada. The Tories had 4 years to pass a law against abortion and gay marriage, and they didn’t do it. At this point, it is safe to say that they will never do it.

No matter how much the Tories want to manipulate you into thinking that they are the righteous and moral party to vote for from a super-conservative Christian perspective, they are undeniably, from a practical perspective, exactly the same thing as the NDP or Liberals as far as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights go.

To re-iterate, abortion and gay marriage are political non-issues in Canada, and it is irrational to think that a vote for the Tories is somehow a vote for “traditional marriage” or a vote against abortion. I’m not saying anything about whether it’s rational to be against gay marriage or abortions. I’m just saying that if your goal is to elect a party that will pass a law against them, you might as well vote for the NDP or the Liberals, since they are equally likely to do so, but they’re not insulting you by pretending that there’s any chance it will happen.

2. The Tories are getting into the habit of twisting the Scripture for political gain

There are some things in [the apostle Paul’s writing] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:16

When the House of Commons was sitting, the Conservatives seem to have gotten into the habit of pretending to cry in order to atone for their sins.[Source] [Source] Now that we’re in full campaign mode, the go-to seems to have become explicitly contorting the Christian faith in order to serve narrow partisan ends.

For example, in July, Tory MP Wai Young told Harvest City Church—with a straight face—that passing the recent controversial bill C-51 was what Jesus would have done.[Source] Last week, Nigel Wright, Man-In-Blue-Suit’s sometime lieutenant compared his actions, namely the giving $90 k of hush money in a cover-up of a political scandal, to those prescribed in Matthew 6:3.[Source] For the record, Matthew 6:3 is rendered in the ESV as “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

As Man-In-Blue-Suit would say, let’s be clear. We’re talking about a pair of politicians who, within weeks of each other, decided to spin something politically unpopular as Christian virtue.

Regardless of what you think of Wright’s actions regarding the $90 k cover-up cheque (it’s currently before the courts for bribery etc., so make of that what you will), and no matter what you think about bill C-51 (it was recently denounced by the UN for being a human rights problem but maybe you’re into that sort of thing), it is non-controversially wrong for politicians to abuse a religious group’s holy text in order to justify their own questionable political actions and manipulate the members of that group.

You just don’t do that.

Far from being the party that supports and aligns itself with the Christian faith, the Tories are unique among the major political parties in their attempts to paint the corpse of their jaded partisan politics with the make-up of false Christian piety. If you are a Christian who cares at all about politicians abusing your faith—if you want your faith to inform your vote at all, the Tories are the last party that you should vote for.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4543,
    title = {Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-08-15,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/15/why-christians-shouldnt-vote-conservative/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 15 Aug 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/15/why-christians-shouldnt-vote-conservative/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Aug 15). Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/15/why-christians-shouldnt-vote-conservative/


A guide to federal politicians’ hair

by

A federal election is many things, but perhaps the most important is that it is a nation-wide referendum on whose haircut we want to see on the news every week. Hence, I have compiled a guide to our current slate of federal politicians, with easy haircut mnemonics to help you remember which one is which.

Politician Which one it is How to remember which one it is
Papa Bear “Angry” Tom “The Papa Bear” Mulcair The angry beardy one
Tru-beau Justin “I have personally punched a Canadian Senator—you’re welcome” Trudeau Justin Tru-beau, amirite? … heh … seriously, nice hair though
May Elizabeth “I’m not a comedian” May I have declined to make a joke about her physical appearance, because the last thing the internet needs right now is one more male blogger making unsolicited commentary about the physical appearance of women in politics
Hurr durr Man in blue suit Haircut: LEGO man standard

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4521,
    title = {A guide to federal politicians’ hair},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-08-2,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/02/a-guide-to-federal-politicians-hair/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A guide to federal politicians’ hair" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Aug 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/02/a-guide-to-federal-politicians-hair/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Aug 02). A guide to federal politicians’ hair [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/02/a-guide-to-federal-politicians-hair/


Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015

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Whenever you hear politicians talk in the run-up to an election, everyone already knows the sorts of things they’re going to say:

“No, you would be a worse fiscal manager! The state of the economy is your fault!”

“No, truly, you would be a worse fiscal manager! The state of the economy has always been your fault!”

What they say is always so disconnected with what I feel is important, that I made a list of things that I wish we could start talking about honestly as a country. These are my “dream election issues,” and with a few exceptions, they’re not the things that politicians (of any party) really like to talk about too much. I’ve divided these things into four broad categories, and I have included a “tl;dr” at the bottom for those who don’t want to read my very wordy ramblings about Canadian politics.

Broadly speaking, I wish that we could be talking about human rights, the state of Canadian democracy, corporate influence on politics, and a guaranteed basic income.

1. Canada’s human rights record, and what can be done to help make things better for our country’s First Nations

The current government is embarrassingly bad at these sorts of issues, despite Canada having a reputation to the contrary.

The Harper Government’s reaction to the Truth and Reconciliation report, for example, was shameful. Canada is a country that literally committed a genocide against a racial group, and the minister in charge of that portfolio decided to stay sitting during a standing ovation for a call for a national inquiry on missing missing and murdered aboriginal women. The lack of movement with regard to an inquiry is inexcusable.

The government’s passage of C-51, with the help of the Liberals, has also recently been deemed a human rights problem by the UN. Naturally, the Tories have shrugged off any such criticism.

And as long as we’re talking about human rights, trans rights are human rights. Considering how smug we as Canadians like to be about LGBTQ+ stuff, (“We have gay marriage, so everything is perfect here, right!”) we’re pretty bad at actually making things better for trans people. A promising trans rights bill was killed by the senate, because … “Meh. Can’t be bothered.”

(Don’t get me wrong, gay marriage is great and all, but if there was such a thing as a Maslovian pyramid of Things that LGBTQ+ People Need In Order To Be Equal To Everyone Else, gay marriage would be pretty much at the top of it. Sure, it makes things better, but mostly for people who have got things pretty good in the first place.)

It would be healthy to finally have an honest national conversation about what kind of a place we want Canada to be. How do we want history to judge us, when they look back at the way that we have treated our First Nations? Wouldn’t it be better if we were talking about the details of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, or even making plans to help preserve the culture of the First Nations, by making their languages official?

Or maybe we should sit down and talk about what kinds of powers we want to grant to a peacetime government. Do we want to be constantly at war with “terror,” or to have a government that demands 3 terror-related statements per week in order to keep us properly terrified? (How about this for a rule regarding the powers of the police and our country’s spies? If a police officer in 1950 would have probably needed a warrant to get access to that detail about your personal life, spies and polices officers in 2015 aren’t allowed to scoop it up in mass surveillance, or obtain that detail of your life otherwise through electronic means.)

2. Re-establishing some semblance of democracy in Canada

Over the past little while, democracy in Canada has gone downhill, fast. Before some neckbeard tries to say, “We are a democracy. We have elections, and that makes us one,” democracy is something that a country has in degrees. Just because a country has elected leaders doesn’t make it an ideal and perfect democracy. There are a number of institutions, practices, conventions and expectations that all work together to ensure that a country has a government of/by/for the people. The simple fact of an elected government, while a cornerstone of democracy, does not exhaust the meaning of the word.

This means that a number of changes to things that seem to be unrelated to whether or not Canada is a democracy can become real threats to Canada as a democracy. For example, the muzzling of Canadian scientists. If Canadian scientists can’t communicate their findings, or if only findings that can be spun to support the government of the day are released, then that eliminates a legitimate means that Canadians have to make their own opinions about how the country is run, what they communicate to their representatives, how they vote, etc.

Further, our prime minister is inaccessible to reporters and journalists. This is actually a problem for democracy itself. The media exists in part to hold the government of the day accountable, and the less accountable a government is to its people, the less democratic it is.

Same thing goes (in principle) for Question Period. The nearly comic performance of “Crocodile Tears” Calandra wasn’t just an exercise in partisan buffoonery. The whole point of parliament is that one of the mechanisms by which laws are made in our system is by talking about them. This is why omnibus bills are also fundamentally un-democratic. The process by which bills become law is supposed to be one where a government has to answer publicly for why it is making the rules that it is. An omnibus bill skips over that whole process, and is antithetical to democracy itself.

3. Corporate influence, intellectual property and protecting the public domain

As long as we’re talking about omnibus bills, let’s talk about what the Tories slipped into the last one and hoped we’d never notice. Up until recently, recordings were protected by copyright in Canada for 50 years after the death of the artist. Harper has quietly upped that figure to 70 years after the death of the artist. There was no debate on this issue. I have never heard a good justification for it. But now it’s law.

For books (at least for the time being) copyright still only extends to 50 years after the death of the writer, and after that point it falls into the Public Domain. (In the US and the UK, it’s already 70 years for books.) The fact that books eventually become Public Domain is why Project Gutenberg can exist. Project Gutenberg is an initiative to make available online—for free—books whose copyright has expired. You can download them, share them, edit them, make fanfiction, whatever. The books are free in every sense of the word.

The fact that copyright expires 20 years earlier in Canada is why Project Gutenberg Canada can exist. Authors like Ian Flemming, CS Lewis, George Orwell, etc., who died more than 50 years ago, but less than 70 years ago, can be downloaded legally for free in Canada, since there are no laws here protecting their copyright. THIS IS A GOOD THING.

There is absolutely no reason, other than corporate greed, to extend copyright after the artist has died. I mean, if copyright is protected for 70 years after the artist has died, everyone that artist ever loved or ever knew would also likely be dead before the copyright expires. The rationale, I take it, for copyright is to encourage new creative works. I am extremely sceptical that the profits of recording or publishing companies, decades after an artist’s death, is a motivating factor for any artist.

Copyright extensions are just one fairly minor issue, but they are like the canary in a coal mine. Copyright extension laws don’t try to pretend to be about the public good. They are absolutely not about the public good, and they are so transparently against the public good that they have to be snuck into law through the use of omnibus bills. The reason they are being legislated is because of corporate influence on our politics. There is no other reason. And that’s why they should be opposed—not just because I like free books (although there is that too), but because as a law that has absolutely no basis in the public good, they stand as a really simple metric for how corrupt our politics are.

4. Guaranteed basic income for all Canadians

I would love to see a guaranteed basic income as a part of a party’s election platform. To me, the phrase “make a living” is absolutely abhorrent. I just can’t justify in my mind the idea that if a human being doesn’t contribute enough to our economy, then that person literally deserves to die of exposure or starvation.

We act like poverty is an intractable problem that we can never solve. Meanwhile, the city of Medicine Hat recently eliminated homelessness by just … giving houses to those who need them. It’s supported in principle by the current mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, and by economists from all political stripes, including ones as far to the right as Milton Friedman. Basic income is not some lefty fantasy.

A few decades ago, Canada didn’t have socialised medicine, and now it’s a point of national pride that no Canadian has to stress about going broke from a healthcare emergency. I would love to see a party campaign on a promise to introduce a guaranteed basic income for Canadians, so that in a few years, it’s a point of national pride that no Canadian has to stress about going broke, ever.

tl;dr

The things I’d love to see become “election issues” for Canada in 2015 are the following:

  • Missing and murdered aboriginal women
  • First Nations languages as official languages of Canada
  • Trans rights
  • The powers of a peacetime government against private liberty
  • Muzzling of Canadian scientists
  • The legality of omnibus bills
  • Copyright extensions as a proxy for corporate political influence
  • Guaranteed basic income

Edit (2015 July 27): Added item #4, basic income.

Cross-posted to: https://medium.com/moral-and-political-philosophy/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-canada-in-2015-394af9bf7ac9

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4507,
    title = {Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-07-25,
    url = {http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/07/25/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-2015/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Jul 2015. Web. 20 Feb 2017. <http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/07/25/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-2015/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Jul 25). Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015 [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/07/25/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-2015/


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